Big 12 expansion: Ranking the candidates, why Texas probably changed its mind
Texas ultimately had to vote 'yes' on expansion, which is interesting considering it was staunchly against it
AUSTIN, Texas -- Almost lost in Tuesday's shocking announcement of the Big 12's expansion exploration was that Texas has apparently changed its mind and jumped on board.
At least for now.
Previously, it was the only school we knew for sure had an opinion on the subject. Oklahoma president David Boren has flip-flopped more than, well, David Boren.
Meanwhile, athletic director Mike Perrin stated in early June that Texas was not in favor of expansion. "The prudent thing [for the Big 12] to do is stay where we are," Perrin told reporters.
What changed? When the presidents voted Tuesday to formally explore expansion, it was unanimous.
It seems that Texas has flipped. On Tuesday afternoon, the entire room full of Big 12 presidents followed with their own acrobatics.
So, what happened?
Texas can probably continue to control the process -- right down to who gets in. What's new, right?
"I'm open to expansion if the proposal is a strong one," Texas president Greg Fenves said in a Wednesday statement. "The conference is actively evaluating the possibilities."
That should be viewed as a positive. Read between the lines: Texas (and Oklahoma) are most comfortable in a conference it can win with like-minded universities in roughly the same geographic region.
Can Oklahoma win the SEC? Sure, but it's going to be a hell of a lot harder. And a Bob Stoops probably isn't winning nine titles in 17 years in the SEC. Can Texas win the Pac-12? Sure, but not without taking four-hour plane flights for some road games.
Suddenly, a Big 12 fortified with two or four more teams looks comfortable going forward for Texas and Oklahoma.
It's will be less likely for the Big 12 to gain or lose members in the future. One source said that with the ACC's grant of rights now extending out through 2036, it will be harder for the Big 12 to pluck or be plucked.
With that ACC Network, that takes 15 teams -- including Notre Dame -- out of the next great round of conference realignment. Because of that, there may not be a next great round of conference realignment.
Tonnage counts. The Big 12 needs to have enough "inventory" (total games) during the next round of renegotiation to add value to its league. It currently plays 75 games per year during the regular season. That total goes up 90 with 12 teams and 105 with 14 teams.
You should be seeing why Big 12 expansion is more about the content that the specific teams. The Big 12 will have more teams playing more games to bid on when the current contract expires in 2024.
The Big 12 can now add markets. It has brand names (Texas, Oklahoma). There are territories out there to conquered.
Houston is a market, the fourth largest city in the country. In some way, UConn can still deliver the Northeast -- not necessarily New York, per se, but a population corridor in that region.
We remain in the early stages of what promises to be a free-for-all. Nothing is wrong. Everything is right. Months ago, according to a source, Texas was at least receptive to Tulane being a candidate.
Before you spit up your jambalaya, New Orleans, that news may be nothing more than a spitball against the wall. But given the reactive nature of Big 12, anything is possible.
"We reached out a few weeks ago," Tulane AD Troy Dannen said. "Essentially, if that opportunity presents, it's something we would certainly would want to explore."
Digging down on Tulane, it wouldn't be a bad fit. Consider ...
Tulane is an academic giant, something any president would cozy up to in expansion. The undergrad enrollment of 8,300 would be the smallest in the Big 12, similar to TCU. Ninety-five percent of the faculty members have PhDs. The admission rate is 30 percent. It's an Association of American Universities school. That's a prestigious honor given to only a 100 or so high-level research firms in North America.
Is it likely, you say? The football is terrible, but it's New Orleans, one of the richest recruiting areas in the country. Is it likely? No, but neither was expansion for the Big 12 until Tuesday afternoon.
With that, let's re-rank Big 12 expansion candidates from most likely to least likely.
1. BYU: The Cougars make the most sense but as a football-only member. Of the available candidates, BYU most closely resembles a Power Five program. It has won a national championship. That's what the Cougars aspire to. That's what the Cougars can do in the right setting. BYU has a loyal national following that one source described as "faith and eyeballs."
Cons: The Mormon faith teaches that Sunday is a Sabbath day to be filled with spiritual contemplation. That's why football-only membership makes sense. Plus, adding another religious flagship private school brings in the potential of another Baylor. The Big 12 presidents were incensed at Baylor officials' lack of transparency in the sexual assault scandal. The school is not subject to open records because it is a private institution.
2. UConn: One high-ranking source believes UConn can deliver the highly-populated Northeastern corridor even the football is lacking. UConn has an alumni base in New York and Boston. Think of the Big Ten settling for Rutgers a few years ago. The State University of New Jersey wasn't a first choice but it is 35 miles from New York City.
3. Houston: The school and some of its powerful alumni are making a huge push to get the Cougars in the Big 12. Houston has shed its commuter-school image of being "Cougar High." It has invested millions in infrastructure. It has a high-profile board of regents chairman in Tilman Fertitta. It has the hottest coach in the country, Tom Herman. It plays in the fourth-largest city in the country. Oh, it just beat the snot out of Florida State in a New Year's Six bowl.
Houston types have been spouting how the Big 12 is slipping in recruiting and TV ratings in the city. "I don't think any of them [expansion candidates] compare to Houston," said Texas Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston grad. "To me it's a no-brainer."
But can Houston get past Texas which, at least for now, doesn't want to help promote an old Southwest Conference rival? "I can't believe they can't be more visionaries," Whitmire said.
4. Cincinnati: The school just lost its outgoing president, Santa Ono, who pushed the program like a used-car salesman. Not that there is anything wrong with that.
Cincinnati isn't a market, nor is it a brand. It is in the middle of Buckeyes territory. But we seem to know the most about it as an expansion candidate.
Last year, it completed $86 million in improvements to Nippert Stadium. Cincinnati would be a nice travel partner for West Virginia. The basketball is good. But is anybody going to watch Iowa State-Cincinnati?
5. UCF (Central Florida): One of the largest schools (enrollment-wise) has a bright future. And I'm not just talking about the weather. George O'Leary got the Knights to a BCS bowl. Bright House Networks Stadium is charming. Scott Frost is the hottest thing out in Orlando since the Backstreet Boys. But does the Big 12 need to have a member in the state of Florida to recruit in the state of Florida? No.
6. Memphis: Ran into a Power Five coach Monday night who was breathless regarding Memphis. "Fred Smith, Memphis, book it," he said. Smith is the FedEx CEO. He's already on record as trying to buy his way into the Big 12 by sponsorship its championship game. This just in: The Big 12 won't have any problems finding title sponsors for its championship game. Despite recent success under Justin Fuente, Memphis is neither a market nor a brand.
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